…says Gov Yari, asked him to ignore President’s payment order
By Soni Daniel, Northern Region Editor
Abuja – A major row is brewing in Abuja, Nigeria’s nation capital, following the refusal of the Accountant General of the Federation to comply with a directive by President Muhammadu Buhari to pay out the sum of $350 million standing in favour of consultants, who worked for states to reclaim the sum of $2,689,279,365 as final payment arising from the refund of Paris Club loans by the Federal Government.
Beyond the Presidency directive to the Accountant General of the Federation to cough out the huge sum to the consultants, the court has also ordered him to pay out the money to all those who toiled to compute the amount due each state and local government in the country as a result of the refund of the loan, which the Obasanjo administrative unilaterally deducted from them and paid out in order to get debt relief from the powerful European financial group.
In a bid to get the presidential directive implemented without any delay, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami and the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, wrote separately to the AGF, giving him specific instruction on what to do in respect of the refunds but he declined to act.
But findings indicate that the Accountant General is relying on a contradictory oral directive given to him by the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum and Governor of Zamfara State, Abdullaziz Yari, not to release the $350 million set aside for consultants’ fee, without clearance by him.
It will be recalled that the Chief of Staff (COS) to the President, Abba Kyari had in a letter dated June 28, 2018, confirmed that President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the settlement of all claims related to the Paris Club loan reimbursement.
In the latter copied to the ministers of Finance and Justice, Abba Kyari also sought the legal opinion of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) on the issue.
Accordingly, Malami, in his letter dated July 11, 2018, and another letter dated August 20, 2018 (in response to request for legal opinion by the Minister of Finance), identified some 3rd party claimants, who were entitled to be paid various amounts as consultancy/legal fees for the services they rendered to states and local governments in relation to the Paris Club refund.
In the August 11, 2018 letter titled: “Legal opinion on 3rd party claims”, Malami identified one of the consultants as Honourable Ned Munir Nwoko, who sued the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF)and seven others in suit: FHC/ABJ/CS/148/2017 and claimed that he was engaged by NGF to provide legal/consultancy services on the Paris Club refund.
Malami noted that parties to the suit, including Nwoko and the NGF, entered a consent judgment on May 9, 2017 “to the effect that Hon. Nwoko is entitled to be paid a negotiated percentage on every refund made by the Federal Government to the states.
Malami’s letter noted: “Hon. Ned Munir Nwodo, covered under paragraph 5 of my letter dated 11th July, 2018 has stated that, in view of the unwillingness of the NGF to negotiate and pay him his full entitlement in line with the consent judgment, he is reverting to his initial claim of $71,936,881.36.
“He is therefore seeking for the payment of the sum of $68,658,192.83 as outstanding sum due to him from NGF.
“The EFCC investigation report, dated 1st August 2018 equally confirmed that the judgment creditor (Nwoko) was engaged by 14 states to recover excess deduction with respect to the Paris and London Club debts,” Malami said.
The Minister warned that since the consultants and other 3rd party claimants had obtained garnishee orders against the Federal Government and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the FG was under obligation to settle the third party creditors before making disbursement to the states and LGAs.
Malami said: “I wish to reiterate the fact that the payments under consideration are to be made before final payments are made to the states and Local Governments to avoid a situation where the Federal Government will be forced to bear any unwarranted liability on this subject matter.”
In view of Malami’s advice, the immediate past Finance minister, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, in a letter dated September 14, 2018, also directed the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, to set aside the consultants’ fees of $350m from the $2,689,279,365 reserved as the final claim to states andlocal councils under the Paris loan refund arrangement.
Part of the letter by Mrs. Adeosun reads: “Please find attached herewith the approval of His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, dated 29th August 2018 in respect of the final claim on Paris Club loan reimbursement of over-deductions from allocations of states and Local Governments.
“I specifically refer you to paragraph 6 which authorised that the final claim of $2,689,279,365 be paid to qualified states, and paragraph 10(x) which recommended that the sum of $350milion be provided for settling legal/consultancy fees, etc.
“In view of the above, you are requested to credit Escrow Account domiciled with the CBN with the sum of $350million,” Mrs. Adeosun said.
The CBN Governor, in a September 18, 2018 letter, acknowledged the directive by the Finance Minister, and sought among others, information on the accounts to which the funds should be paid.
But, in his letter of September 21 to the Attorney General of the Federation, which he sent through the Finance Minister, the Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris, attempted to justify why the $350m meant for the payment of legal/consultancy fees was being withheld.
He sought advice from the Minister of Justice, a request the Minister was yet to provide since the letter was written on September 21.
Idris, in the letter titled: “Re: Payment of legal/consultancy fees deducted from states’ reimbursement in respect of final claim on Paris Club loan”, referred to a certain counter-directive by the Chairman of the NGF to withhold the $350m.
Part of the letter reads: “The Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice is kindly referred to our tri-partite discussion at the Ministry of Justice on the above subject vide Mr. President’s approval and be informed that the Chairman of the Governors’ Forum has verbally instructed that the payment be kept on hold.
“In view of Mr. President’s approval and the counter-instruction from the Chairman of the Governors’ Forum, kindly advise accordingly.”
Commenting on the propriety of his action, the office of the Accountant General of the Federation said, “The OAGF had to write to Attorney General of the Federation in view of some emerging developments on the matter. We always comply fully with relevant directives and extent rules guiding public expenditure and payments.
“As Treasury, we perform our duties ethically and without compromising our professional callings as holders of public trust. Should you need additional information on this matter, please contact us again. Thank you for the effort to hear from us,” Idris wrote in reaction to enquiries by the media on why the consultants’ fees were unpaid.